I was reading Acts 27 this morning and the sea faring language was a wonderful refresher of days when I lived on a sailboat. I’m sorry for posting much of the chapter, but here is today’s text for discussion:
The Voyage to Rome Begins
1 And when it was decided that we should sail to Italy, they delivered Paul and some other prisoners to one named Julius, a centurion of the Augustan Regiment. 2 So, entering a ship of Adramyttium, we put to sea, meaning to sail along the coasts of Asia. Aristarchus, a Macedonian of Thessalonica, was with us. 3 And the next day we landed at Sidon. And Julius treated Paul kindly and gave him liberty to go to his friends and receive care. 4 When we had put to sea from there, we sailed under the shelter of Cyprus, because the winds were contrary. 5 And when we had sailed over the sea which is off Cilicia and Pamphylia, we came to Myra, a city of Lycia. 6 There the centurion found an Alexandrian ship sailing to Italy, and he put us on board. 7 When we had sailed slowly many days, and arrived with difficulty off Cnidus, the wind not permitting us to proceed, we sailed under the shelter of Crete off Salmone. 8 Passing it with difficulty, we came to a place called Fair Havens, near the city of Lasea.
Paul’s Warning Ignored
9 Now when much time had been spent, and sailing was now dangerous because the Fast was already over, Paul advised them, 10 saying, “Men, I perceive that this voyage will end with disaster and much loss, not only of the cargo and ship, but also our lives.” 11 Nevertheless the centurion was more persuaded by the helmsman and the owner of the ship than by the things spoken by Paul. 12 And because the harbor was not suitable to winter in, the majority advised to set sail from there also, if by any means they could reach Phoenix, a harbor of Crete opening toward the southwest and northwest, and winter there.
In the Tempest
13 When the south wind blew softly, supposing that they had obtained their desire, putting out to sea, they sailed close by Crete. 14 But not long after, a tempestuous head wind arose, called Euroclydon. 15 So when the ship was caught, and could not head into the wind, we let her drive. 16 And running under the shelter of an island called Clauda, we secured the skiff with difficulty. 17 When they had taken it on board, they used cables to undergird the ship; and fearing lest they should run aground on the Syrtis Sands , they struck sail and so were driven. 18 And because we were exceedingly tempest-tossed, the next day they lightened the ship. 19 On the third day we threw the ship’s tackle overboard with our own hands. 20 Now when neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest beat on us , all hope that we would be saved was finally given up. 21 But after long abstinence from food, then Paul stood in the midst of them and said, “Men, you should have listened to me, and not have sailed from Crete and incurred this disaster and loss. 22 And now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. 23 For there stood by me this night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve, 24 saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must be brought before Caesar; and indeed God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ 25 Therefore take heart, men, for I believe God that it will be just as it was told me. 26 However, we must run aground on a certain island.”
27 Now when the fourteenth night had come, as we were driven up and down in the Adriatic Sea, about midnight the sailors sensed that they were drawing near some land. 28 And they took soundings and found it to be twenty fathoms; and when they had gone a little farther, they took soundings again and found it to be fifteen fathoms. 29 Then, fearing lest we should run aground on the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern, and prayed for day to come. 30 And as the sailors were seeking to escape from the ship, when they had let down the skiff into the sea, under pretense of putting out anchors from the prow, 31 Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.” 32 Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the skiff and let it fall off.”
A lee shore is when the wind is coming across your boat and driving it into the rocky shore. You run aground and the waves then pound your boat to pieces. A lee shore is a scary position to be in. It is hard enough for sailboats these days but back then square rigged sails couldn’t point into the wind even as much as triangular sails. In either case, with no engine all you could do is thrown out an anchor or two for drag, and try and tack away from the shore (making progress by long zig zags) by pointing into the wind as much as possible.
Now think about these sailors. It’s been TWO WEEKS! They haven’t eaten properly, then they ate nothing at all. You can’t cook when the seas are that rough. You can’t sleep, and all hands are needed to keep changing the sails for tacking. This is strength-sapping to the extreme and you are exhausted to begin with. You are literally battling the wind and waves, which, remember is late fall now so it is cold. [“After the Fast” is Yom Kippur, in Oct.] It is LOUD. A tempest isn’t quiet. The rigging squeals, the masts creak, the boat pounds into the waves, the spray hisses, the cargo shifts. The seas roar. Captain yells, and the men moan. It is loud. They threw off cargo, they threw off rigging, which meant spare sails, ropes, and other items needed for sailing the boat. They even tied the ship together with ropes! (“undergird the ship”) When all seemed lost, they got ready to let down the lifeboat.
These men were tired, cold, hungry, scared, and knew they were about to die. They had thrown off everything they could, and if they’d had Jonah on board, they’d likely have thrown him off too. When you are in that condition for as long as you are, it is survival mode. Your whole world narrows to getting through the next minute, coming up intact from the last wave. A lifeboat becomes your only vision, your only hope. Your only chance…and Paul told them to let it go.
Imagine the drama of that moment. The only thing between life and death in their view was that lifeboat. And yet…they listened to Paul and they cut it away.
Would you cut it away? Have you cut away all backups, lifeboats, safety nets? Are you making Jesus your only hope, your only life? He promised them life, and He promised you life eternal. His promises are good. If you are in the tempest, remember that Jesus is the lifeboat! And He will never leave your or forsake you.